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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Standing on the Edge of Time

The Potomac Theatre Project's recent streaming play, Standing on the Edge of Time, consists largely of people talking--alone, in pairs, or in groups--about  history, theatre, relationships (romantic and not), and meaning. Each segment is by a different playwright or poet, resulting in a pleasing and thought-provoking verbal kaleidoscope of words and ideas. (I've provided a list of the shows represented below.) With many young people in the cast, the show sometimes feels like groups of college kids got together for slightly buzzed, totally heartfelt, 2-a.m. discussions. I frequently wished I could join them. 


Rather than discussing the individual segments, of which there are almost 20, I offer some of the lines that stood out for me.
  • All theatres are haunted.
  • Most people are stupid and couldn't tell a play from a pineapple.
  • My real sister became a nun to meet men.
  • To be or nobody.
  • Paranoia transcends politics; it becomes spiritual.
  • God wants peacocks, not ravens.
  • These are cold days, not to be believed.
  • I believe humans will walk on the surface on Mars.
  • The flying car will radically alter [making out].
  • [There will be] a global epidemic of panic and mass despair.
  • Sex will become [boring]; Tupperware will make dildos.
  • They fucked up in the 60s. They took away all the values and didn't put anything in its place.
  • On this planet one is overwhelmed.

One of my favorite lines comes from "What Do You Believe About the Future?" by David Auburn. After around a dozen people make their predictions, some of which are in the list above, a young man says, "I believe I will get a date."

Two points: (1) I wish I had been able to see this in a theatre. (No shit, huh?) I am much better able to sink into the mood and pacing of a word-driven piece like this in a dark theatre than in my studio apartment. (2) I really wish that the pieces had been identified as they started. I completely get why director Cheryl Faraone would not want to interrupt the flow of discussion with title cards or captions, but not knowing was problematic too. I was sometimes distracted by thinking, for example, "Wait, I've heard that before. Is that Kushner? Churchill?" And then I was distracted by thinking, "Wow, I really should be able to distinguish the voices of such individual playwrights." (The only author I identified with no problem was Ntozake Shange; she truly sounds like no one else.)

Faraone forestalls the inevitable Zoom-ness of streaming plays with an appealing, overtly theatrical opening including atmospheric shots of an old theatre and a ringmaster sort of person discussing exactly what theatre is ("Like the inside of a human heart. Only bigger, and not as empty."). When sections do have the dreaded Zoom-like boxes, Faraone uses interesting angles and various other devices to provide variety, plus a few sections are shot outdoors.

The show is well-acted by Alex Draper, Stephanie Janssen, Christopher Marshall, Tara Giordano, Sheyenne Brown, Aubrey Dube, Wynn McClenahan, Becca Berlind, Gabrielle Martin, Maggie Connolly, Madison Middleton, Francis Price, and Gibson Grimm.

It is unfortunate that this show is already gone, but Potomac has one more show this season. A Small Handful is based on the poetry and life of Anne Sexton and utilizes speech, song, and performance to "discover something about the endurance of Anne Sexton’s complex journey." It runs August 13 to 17; more information can be found here.

***

The plays and poems of Standing on the Edge of Time.

Crowbar by Mac Wellman

Next Time I'll Sing to You by James Saunders

The Enemy by Mike Bartlett

Excerpts from "Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia" by Francis Wheen

Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau

Tales of the Lost Formicans by Constance Congdon

Red Noses by Peter Barnes

A Bright Room Called Day (Oranges) by Tony Kushner

Roar by Anna Deavere Smith

Spell of Motion by Stacie Cassarino

What Do You Believe About the Future? by David Auburn

Serial Monogamy by Ntozake Shange

Tickets Are Now on Sale by Caryl Churchill

In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe by Eric Overmyer

Mornings at the Lake by Stacie Cassarino

The Internet is Serious Business by Tim Price

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Untold Stories of Broadway: Volume 4 (book review)

 My latest review is up at Talkin' Broadway.


According to their interviews in The Untold Stories of Broadway: Volume 4, Ed Dixon has great affection for The Scarlet Pimpernel; Krysta Rodriguez saw Assassins at Studio 54 three times; and Arbender J. Robinson auditioned 30-plus times over many years before being cast in The Lion King. At 8 years old, Andrew Keenan-Bolger was so moved by Les Mis that he cried when characters died. Liz Callaway misses "when theatres were grungy and the area was in danger" (as do I). There were columns in the set of Grand Hotel because there were columns in the rehearsal room. As a kid, William Finn thought that My Fair Lady had always existed, like the Talmud. Longtime stagehand Manny Diaz has never seen a Broadway show from the audience. Twelve-year-old future-director Lynne Meadow thought her first Broadway show (Destry Rides Again) wasn't that good. Pretty much every other interviewee was gobsmacked by their first.
To read more, click here.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Tom Stoppard: A Life (book review)

My review of Tom Stoppard: A Life appears on Talkin' Broadway.




Hermione Lee's Tom Stoppard: A Life is a formidable achievement. Not only does Lee cover the story of Stoppard's life in great detail, but she also examines the genesis of each of his plays, offers social and political context, and provides thumbnail bios for dozens of the people in Stoppard's life. The result is 872 pages long, including copious notes; it is simultaneously fascinating and a bit of a slog. 

To read more, click here.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Myths and Hymns (Chapter 1): Flight

I'm going to cut to the chase here. I highly, highly, highly recommend the MasterVoices streaming production of Myths and Hymns, chapter one of which is available right now. The music, by Adam Guettel, is gorgeous. The lyrics are often lovely, sometimes silly and funny, occasionally grand. The designs are graceful and beautiful. The cast is amazing. And it's free, although you can certainly give a donation. I did.


Here are some excerpts from the press release to give you all the info you need:

Mastervoices Presents Flight, The First Chapter Of Adam Guettel’s Four-Part Theatrical Song Cycle Myths And Hymns, In A Digital Production Conceived And Supervised By Ted Sperling

Flight features the MasterVoices Chorus; singers Julia Bullock, Renée Fleming, Joshua Henry, Capathia Jenkins, Mykal Kilgore, Norm Lewis, Jose Llana, Kelli O'Hara, and Elizabeth Stanley; the a cappella gospel music group Take 6; actress Annie Golden; and pianists Anderson & Roe. It can be found at the ensemble's YouTube channel and on mastervoices.org.

Myths and Hymns - CHAPTER ONE: FLIGHT
Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel
Additional lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
Orchestrations by Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence
MasterVoices, Ted Sperling, ​Artistic Director and Conductor​ 



Prometheus
Anderson & Roe, piano duo
Greg Anderson, arranger and director




Saturn Returns: the Flight
MasterVoices
Joshua Henry, soloist
Ted Sperling, director   



                                               

Icarus
MasterVoices
Mykal Kilgore, soloist (Icarus)
Norm Lewis, soloist (Daedalus)
Sammi Cannold, director
Lucy Mackinnon, designer


Migratory V
MasterVoices
Julia Bullock, soloist
Renée Fleming, soloist
Kelli O'Hara, soloist
Lear deBessonet, director
Danny Mefford, co-creator
Yazmany Arboleda, co-creator and illustrator
Cloud Chatanda, animation 



Pegasus
Annie Golden, narrator
Jose Llana, soloist (Bellerophon)
Capathia Jenkins, soloist (Pegasus)
Elizabeth Stanley, soloist (Gadfly)
Ted Sperling, director
Steven Kellogg, illustrations



Jesus, the Mighty Conqueror
MasterVoices
Take 6, soloists
Mark Kibble, arranger
Khristian Dentley, director


Mastervoices Presents Work, The Second Chapter Of Adam Guettel’s Four-Part Theatrical Song Cycle Myths And Hymns, On February 24, 2021

With the MasterVoices Chorus; Singers Shoshana Bean, Daniel Breaker, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Michael McElroy, Ailyn Pérez, and Nicholas Phan; and actor John Lithgow.

Wendy Caster

Monday, December 07, 2020

Singular Sensation (book review)

I reviewed Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel, on Talkin' Broadway. I had mixed feelings. 

To read the review, please click here.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Conflict

Great news: It's not too late to watch The Mint's fabulous production of the painfully timely 1925 play Conflict. (Review of the production here.) For free. This is a nicely done video of the full production, and I recommend it highly. (BTW, it can only be watched from The Mint site and not on YouTube, but I ran a cable from my computer to my TV and the quality was excellent.) It's available through November 1.

Jeremy Beck and Jessie Shelton 
Photo: Todd Cerveris

Here's the info from their website:

Free On Demand Streaming of Miles Malleson’s election comedy CONFLICT runs from Monday October 19 through November 1. Closed Captioning is available.

If you need the Password, send an email to streaming@minttheater.org and watch for a response.

If you don’t see a reply, please check your spam folder and make sure you have a valid “reply to” address.

Mint is proud to have our artists back on payroll while offering you an opportunity to experience great plays and productions from the safety and comfort of your own home. We are gratified to know that we are providing a lift to out-of-work actors while sharing the Mint experience with old and new friends from around the world. Your support helps to make this possible.

Please consider making a gift to the Mint. Thank you!

The Mint itself can be reached at minttheater.org 

Wendy Caster


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Far Away (PTP/NYC)

In the past couple of decades, Caryl Churchill has perfected the oblique and concentrated one-act play, somehow providing the intellectual challenge and emotional punch of the best of full-length plays in less than an hour. Examples include Escaped Alone (55 minutes), a cutting examination of  people maintaining "normality" as the world unravels; A Number (60 minutes), which considers cloning from a clone's point of view; and Drunk Enough to Say I Love You (45 minutes), an evisceration of the United States' treatment of other countries. 


Caitlin Duffy and Ro Boddie

And then there is Far Away, which brilliantly depicts an existence that is just to the right of our current world. (The original New York production, in 2002, came across as a "what if" exercise, with a certain amount of insanity/metaphor/magic realism. In 2020, after many "what ifs" have actually occurred, the world of Far Away feels considerably less far away.)


Nesba Crenshaw and Lilah May Pfeiffer 

It's difficult to describe Far Away without spoilers. In fact, almost any description would tell too much. Suffice to say that it depicts a world where good things happen, horrible things happen, and as regular people go from day to day in their uncontroversial lives they may be more complicit than they would ever guess. 

The excellent PTP/NYC posted an amazingly successful streaming version of Far Away last week. Cheryl Faraone directed with her usual subtle intelligence, and she made simple but effective decisions to utilize the strengths of streaming (everyone in the audience has an excellent seat) and bypass the weaknesses (the use of identical backdrops and choreographed looks between actors make it easy to forget that they were not in the same room). Unfortunately, the current situation made impossible a truly amazing coup de theatre in the play, and I'm not sure that Faraone's replacement was sufficient to let new audiences know exactly what was going on. (In the original NY production at the NYTW, the scene was equal parts thrilling and chilling.)

In a streaming production, the skills of the performers are particularly important, and the cast is terrific: Lilah May Pfeiffer nicely shows that the questioning nature of young people can become dangerous; Nesba Crenshaw believably sinks into paranoia--or does she?--without ever seeming crazy; Ro Boddie charms as he negotiates finding a coworker attractive; and Caitlin Duffy is superbly both guarded and transparent as she struggles to understand what is happening inside and outside of her world and how she should respond.

It may seem strange to review a production that is no longer available and that can't be discussed in any real detail, but here's the thing: the wonderful people at PTP/NYC are already planning their next season, which will likely include other strong and significant shows, beautifully produced. That's what they've been doing for decades. 

Wendy Caster

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Seven Sins

Company XIV cast of Seven Sins. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.
Seven Sins by Company XIV, their most cohesive production to date, tells the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace and the introduction of the seven deadly sins using three narrators. Cemiyon Barber/Scott Schneider (Adam) and Emily Stockwell/Danielle J.S. Gordon (Eve) unfold the tale through movement, while Amy Jo Jackson as The Devil dominates with strong vocals and a hedonistic presence — her non-apologetic Satan embraces every bit of sequined avarice.

Stockwell* towers over Barber and when they dance, it exposes a lovely awkwardness: a subtle nod to humanity’s flaws and life’s inequity amid the beauty of their gestures. Eve — created by Adam’s rib, in a Vegas-like bit where Adam gets sawed in half and she magically appears in a cage — possesses a gangliness that contrasts with Barber’s sleekness. After a glittery snake, carried by a team of acolytes in bondage wear, introduces the apple, the two awkwardly remove ugly transparent costumes that emphasize their naked body parts, struggle with their nudity in a frantic fig leaf dance and, ultimately, join most of the vices onstage.

Some of the pair’s participation is integral to the number like when Lust (a provocative Lilin) shimmies over a blindfolded Adam in an elaborate lap dance. In others, for instance when Sloth (Troy Lingelbach) twists acrobatically over them as they sit sedately in a bathtub, offer less insight into story — giving spectacle rather than showing Adam and Eve’s evolution as both adapt to this new world full of temptations.

While Director/Choreographer Austin McCormick always creates inventive and entertaining productions, his work can lack emotional impact and a smoothness in storytelling. Even past pieces with well-known storylines, such as Cinderella and Snow White, slip into periodic vacuity when pageantry becomes more important than its characters. Seven Sins, however, provides real resonance, especially when using Adam and Eve as more than mere stand-ins, raising the bar for McCormick’s work and pushing beyond the litany of provocative acts. A pas de deux by the Eden outcasts near the end, for instance, is lovingly done, evoking a closeness of the couple and a yearning for what they’ve lost: a truly moving moment.

Seven Sins continues Company XV’s signature burlesque that mostly succeeds. Marcy Richardson, always a powerhouse, embodies Greed as she embraces the ultimate stripper pole and blends opera with an appreciation for her leanness and grace. Nolan McKew and Troy Lingelbach as Jealousy show athleticism as they try to outdo each other while suspended over the audience. More hokey is the Gluttony number that goes on for several segments and showcases silly posturing with plastic foods and an over-the-top can-can. Still, the blend of low- and high-brow entertainment embodies what Company XV provides in all of their shows — where else can you see such a collection of opera, nudity, dance, cabaret and circus acts?

The show runs through Oct. 31 (383 Troutman St., Bushwick, Brooklyn) Thursday-Sunday. Two hours with two intermissions. New Serpent VIP seating is available, and includes a variety of snacks, drinks and tableside entertainment. Tickets start at $85 and range from $245-$295 for VIP seating. For more information, see: http:CompanyXIV.com

*in the Thursday night performance seen by the reviewer